The Blackhawk Serpa holster has been kicking around since the Global War on Terror began. For its time, it was a rather revolutionary design that provided the military and police forces a dedicated duty holster, made from polymer, with active retention, a modular design, and an affordable price tag. Before the Serpa, the Bianchi M12′ suicide’ holster served troops. The M12 earned its name as the suicide holster because you’d have to be suicidal to consider it.
While it carried a firearm, the M12 made accessing the gun painfully slow. The Serpa series promised the same level of retention with less bulk and a faster draw. Serpa series holsters had a multitude of attachments that allowed the gun to ride with belt loops, on a thigh rig, on a MOLLE panel, and beyond. While the Serpa seemed perfect, it soon proved to be a pretty poor choice. In fact, it’s downright dangerous.
Even now, in 2021, I keep seeing Serpas on the belts of Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, and Airmen. The good news is, the recent adoption of the M17 and M18 service pistols, along with their Safariland holsters, will eventually phase the Serpa out. However, it could take a substantial amount of time before the new pistol and holster become issued force-wide. If you currently serve and are issued a Serpa holster, I encourage you to find an alternative.
My Ride With the Serpa
As a pistol-qualified machine gunner, I toted a Beretta M9 alongside my M240. I, like most Marines, carried that M9 in a Blackhawk Serpa. Initially, I loved the holster and wore it on both a thigh rig and on my plate carrier, depending on what I was doing. I could draw it quite quickly, and the modular design allowed it to be mission adaptable.
Then I got to Africa. We were doing a little training, and my machine gun squad acted as OPFOR (role-played as an opposing force) for a rifle squad. At sunset, we humped into the African wilderness to set up an ambush. Suddenly, I felt something swing and move on my chest. I looked down to see my Serpa now oriented with the barrel pointing at my face.
Two of the three contact points had sheared off, and a single screw held the now swinging SERPA and the M9 it carried. I’m not partial to having a gun pointed at my head, so I removed the M9 and dropped it into the kangaroo pouch on my plate carrier. Keep in mind, I wasn’t doing anything stressful–just walking with an M240 over my shoulder. After that, I ditched the Serpa and eventually got a Safariland rig.
It turned out my experience wasn’t uncommon. However, beyond that structural issue, there is a key issue with the safety aspect of the Serpa. Over time people began to realize the Serpa’s design was not a particularly safe one.
The Core Safety Issue
The Serpa’s active retention device is a small button the user presses that releases the gun so it can be drawn. If that button is not pressed, the gun stays put. Active retention devices are not uncommon, but the method in which the Serpa utilized an active retention device was when it was introduced. The release button is located in line with the trigger.
Applying pressure with your trigger finger to a button in line with your trigger as you draw the weapon turned out to be an unsafe action. If the pressure remains as you draw your pistol, the finger will find its way into the trigger guard and potentially cause a negligent discharge.
Word of negligent discharges quickly began to pop up as the holster became more popular. Inside the Marine Corps, the M9’s long trigger pull, manual safety, and the fact that pistols aren’t issued frequently ensured this was rarely an issue in service, however, and it went unnoticed.
However, the law enforcement world and the civilian market saw a quick rise in Serpa-supported negligent discharges, many resulting in injuries. FLETC, or the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, banned the holster, as have most large police departments. Shooting sports have unanimously banned the holster, as have most firearms instructors.
Beyond the obvious safety issues, the Serpa ended up being structurally weak, as well.
Broken Serpas became a common theme among infantry units issuing the holster. Almost always, the structural weaknesses were the points where the holster was attached to a belt, MOLLE adapter, or what-have-you. The cheap plastic easily broke when stressed. Eventually, videos even emerged of guys training for firearm retention with the Serpa and the holster simply being yanked off the adapter by the ‘aggressor.’
In my case, I guess exposure to the heat-filled environment, saltwater, and doing Marine things just weakened the Serpa over time. But even after those safety and structural issues, the Serpa’s retention button also turned out to be another weak point.
The open design of the retention button allowed dirt, sand, and debris to get inside the button and completely disable it. This would make it impossible to draw your firearm. One of the reasons I moved the gun to my chest was a warning from an experienced sergeant who was already aware of this issue. As a machine gunner, I was in the prone position frequently, and the Serpa was exposed to the ground quite often as a result, meaning even after the change, I still had to worry about it.
Ditch the Serpa
The Serpa isn’t a safe holster. Admittedly, the M9’s manual safety and long trigger pull helped minimize the negligent discharge concern in the Marine Corps. However, there is no reason to accept a potentially unsafe piece of gear just because the issued firearm is pretty good at compensating for it. Even beyond the issue with safety, durability concerns are also crucial to address. If the holster breaks or becomes disabled, you now have to solve your loose handgun problem. I was lucky that mine broke in training and not in combat.
I’m glad to see the Serpa fade away from being the issued rig. However, things tend to stick around in the military, and I’m betting they’ll pop up every now and again with troops who might not know better. If you have a Serpa, please consider a better rig. Safariland makes outstanding gear, and even the Blackhawk T series is a notable improvement over the Serpa. Ditch it, forget it, and move forward.
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وب سایت تخصصی استخراج طلا و فلزات گرانبها
آموزش و مشاوره استخراج طلا
از خاک، سنگ، ضایعات الکترونیکی، بردهای الکترونیکی
آموزش و مشاوره بازیابی طلا و نقره
از خاک و سواله های کارگاههای طلاسازی و نقره سازی
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، نقره، پلاتین، پالادیوم و رودیوم
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These holsters are only dangerous to people without proper training or attention to detail. I carried my Beretta M-9 in a carbon fiber Serpa holster on my utility for the year I served in Baghdad with frequent trips outside the wire on helos and Humvees without any problem whatsoever. I practiced drawing whenever I could in my trailer or office with an unloaded weapon and magazine out. We have a large civilian gun and police distributor in Dallas and Serpa holsters are one of the well known holsters they sell. I’ve been shooting for over 60 years and never had a single firearms incident.
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David B says
So, reading this entire article, almost every “deficiency” listed appears to boil down to misuse of the holster, lack of training in properly using the holster, and failure to maintain your own gear. If you’re not making sure that your gear and equipment isn’t put together properly, and training to ensure that you are properly using your gear and equipment, then that means that YOU are the problem, and not the equipment.
Yep. Used the SERPA for several years (17+) in several environments. Never had an issue myself. The NDs we investigated (yes there was more than one) were the result of operator error. The operator errors were usually linked to poor leadership. Sadly we saw several leaders get lazy. Dry firing drills and equipment inspections were lacking. Most common reason for an ND with the M9 was operator failure to decock the weapon prior to reholstering.
kevin wood says
Tex says he was using a 511 Thumbdrive holster…w/1911 Kimber pistol…. Not a Serpa holster, he attributes the self inflicted wound to his own failure to recognize the potential thumb retention release being too close to the Kimbers safety lever and a reflexive trigger finger …it may well be that a safari land holster is superior but some of your info here is mixed up. Did you not research your material before publishing? Kinda sorta should ya know, you’re talking about a different holster. Good read though, don’t know what to believe.
It would seem that the failure to keep the trigger finger out of the trigger guard whether it be a Serpa or thumb drive is causing the negligent discharge, I totally agree with Kevin Woods
Edward VanDuzer says
Exactly right about the trigger finger. If used PROPERLY the Serpa is a safe holster. I and many others have used the Serpa for many years without a problem. If you don’t tighten the passive retention too tight and keep your trigger finger FLAT while drawing the weapon, you will never have an issue. It isn’t the holster that is UNSAFE it’s the operator who isn’t trained in it’s use.
I carried my M-9 in a Safariland thigh holster on my first tour in Iraq. I absolutely hated it because no matter how I adjusted it it would rotate 180 degrees to the left inside my thigh and had to constantly reposition it.
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Adrian Werner says
You probably forgot lock tide on your screws and they fell out. I’m using Serpa’s for ALL my guns. Never had an issue.
TJ Moss says
All very interesting. I carried a 1911 and the M9 a good portion of my 22+ years as a Recon Marine. I’ve heard both sides of the story with both SERPA and Safariland ALS holsters. I own both. Unfortunately, I have had 3 separate Safariland holsters break or had retention malfunctions. So I’m not a fan. I still use the SERPA for tactical training (as an instructor) and for my EDC’s…yes, a 1911 and Beretta M9. Just can’t get into combat tupperware (Glocks, etc).
Anyway, not all of us have had those issues with the SERPA and still swear by it use and reliability. Not a single problem or issue. I will say this…training is everything and some of the issues reported in it’s use are due to poor training, lack of service maintenance of gear and little or no practice. Personally, I wouldn’t trade one of my SERPA holsters for a dozen Safarilands…we all have a preference.
In the end, practice makes perfect. Perfection requires constant training and good serviceable gear. So be smart, be ready and be safe.
Joseph Greene says
I work in the armored car industry and you wouldn’t believe how prolific these garbage holsters are. Even ex-military personnel use them and you would think they know better.
Jimbo Watkins says
lol you must work for safariland
Well, at the time of contract adoption, there were only two real competitors- Safariland and Blackhawk. The reason that the Serpa beat out the SL ALS came down to how the pistol was transferred between chest rig, belt rig, or thigh rig. For people with smaller hands, they had to put their hand in front of the holster where the muzzle was to get at the ALS forks to release the holster. That’s it, period! The rest of the NDs with the Serpa holster are all training issues, not gear. I’m regard to your comment about gear breaking down- that’s user error and supply chain issue. Users failing to check kit. If you have any questions regarding the adoption of the Serpa- email me directly and I’ll be happy to share.
I realize I am late to the party, but agree completely with your analysis of Travis’ analysis. If you are not drawing a few thousand times before you field a new holster then you are wrong. I hear officers say things like, “…but I only had one day at the range to practice.” My response is always something to the effect of you had 16 hours to practice that day alone. I carried the Serpa for about 8 years as a detective along with my entire squad. I gave them the holster a couple weeks in advance and told them to practice nice, slow, perfect draws 30 minutes at night every day before going to the range if they didn’t want to work a desk officer of shame (no pistol) until I could schedule them range time again. Then at the range we started with the new holster like it was a transition and did a couple hundred non-timed draw and fire a single round and then reholster drills. At this point let me say that we have a very good budget for firearms training and during the 22 years I ran or worked the range we had zero injuries other than simple boo boos from putting fingers where they don’t go, particularly with the 870. I think if you check into the initial FLETC issues you might find they were handed the holsters, perhaps shown to use the tip of the finger to release and then sent out to qualify. Agencies need to spend time and money to get their people right if they issue new stuff. With regard breaking kit, I’m pretty sure the holster screws didn’t loosen and fall out and the “plastic” snap in one walk. Only been doing this for 30+ years with time on 2 different tactical units so I may have missed a similar event but I don’t think so.
As a last thought, do you take care of your people? I have spare screws, wrenches, Loctite and other bits and pieces at my desk; and pay my guys 1 hour a month to come off the road when we are not busy and clean their pistol and rifle. Take ownership.
The Serpa’s release button is in line with the slide of the weapon and when drawn properly, by pressing the button with your index finger fully extended, that’s exactly where your finger will end up. 100% shooter error if you ND.
As far as the structural problems, I never experienced any but I can see how extended field use could snap the plastic connection points.
Steve Lock says
Please watch the second and third video of the man who shot himself drawing the Serpa. Then rewrite your piece. Only a fool who has not trained well uses the finger to press the lever on a Serpa. Read the operation instructions, draw like any other holster finger flat on the side of the holster pointing like any other draw this does not have finger IN the trigger well but like any training it’s along the side ready to move to trigger . If you had watched the second and third video you would have understood this. Pity .
P.M. Phillips says
Travis’ analysis of the Serpa’s shortcomings are spot on, but his criticism of the M12 holster is unfair. Older veterans will recall the M12 replaced the aging M1916 leather holsters used to carry the M1911 pistols for over 70 years. Although a well-made holster, an M1911 could easily slip out of a well-worn M1916 holster, requiring the use of a lanyard to ensure retention. Sure, the M12 might be slower to draw from than a modern Safariland system. Back in the day, though, it was just the ticket for keeping your sidearm safe from the elements and secure without the need for lanyards or field-expedient dummy cords, which were prone to snagging, especially in vehicles or on airborne drops. Modern retention holsters like those made by Safariland are fast, safe, and reliable portage for the pistolero. But if your primary weapon is a rifle, there’s still no better holster to keep your backup clean and accounted in a harsh environment than an M12.
Brian Foley says
If the motto is safety first…well then you know the answer.
Spread the Word, Travis. I just bought a Safariland before my pistol class, because I didn’t want to be “That Guy” who shows up with a Serpa.
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